12 MIN READ
A year ago, we were just getting the first inkling of what was to lie ahead. The news stories that started to pop up seemed one-off and distant. Boy does that sound silly from where I sit now, in my house, still!
Today we are in the home stretch, but it is a long stretch depending on your age and location. 2020 and 2021 may not be twins, but they seem a lot like siblings, and it is just as vital now as ever to make sure that we are taking care to show up for ourselves so we can do the same for the people around us. Let’s look at how to shine in 2021, both personally and professionally, in the shadow of a pandemic.
Don’t worry—I won’t encourage you to go gallivanting around and “live your best life” like all is well—no toxic positivity here. That’s what 2022 and beyond are for. I will encourage you instead to soldier on in the way that is uniquely best for you and your family.
On the Home Front
Your health and self-care are critical this year. You’ve weathered a year of disruption. How it impacts each of us varies. Some are carrying a little extra weight from all the bread baking, while some are using their stay-at-home time to work out regularly. Many have done both. Regardless, time (at home) remains to revisit our priorities and adjust our choices accordingly. Let’s look at some wellness areas that can often fall neglected and give you some steps to get back on track.
In the self-care realm, XY Planning Network members can join Senior Director of Member Success, Maddy Roche, every weekday at 8:45 AM. MT for a quick 15 minutes of meditation. If you don’t have time, help yourself to any of the meditation apps available. However serves you best, app or no app, be sure to make time for quiet and reflection. You can use this as a time for gratitude. I have long sung the praises of practicing gratitude in your daily life. This past year there were times that gratitude was for very small things—but the small things matter and impact your well-being.
If gratitude and mindfulness are not getting you where you need to go, or if they are and you just want someone to talk to that doesn’t have four legs, I encourage you to engage with a therapist. Making time to work with a professional can help you process emotions you are experiencing and maybe those you haven’t had time to experience. When we are under stress, some of our old coping mechanisms can rear back up in our lives. A professional can help you see how not-so holistic coping mechanisms manifest for us and how we can practice different, healthier coping mechanisms. I have got to tell you, I thought Zoom therapy would be weird, but really, it was easy to get the help I needed without the stress of going out into the world during a COVID-19 surge, and there’s nothing weird about that.
As you continue to work from home, do a review of your setup. Is it time to invest in a better chair or desk? Are you tired of looking too orange in your old webcam? Oh, wait—was that just me? Go ahead and upgrade to make things more comfortable and productive for yourself. There’s been a surge in physical therapy that professionals are chalking up to months of working from the couch or uncomfortable kitchen table chairs. Don’t let that be you. Get a new office chair. Wheeled office chairs can also function as entertainment for children, what a good deal for everyone.
The surge in PT is also due to a shift in exercise routines. You’ve still got 6-12 months of this ahead of you. Do you need to invest in some better equipment or a virtual trainer to get you moving? Perhaps a simple search of YouTube will provide yoga classes or ski season exercise routines. It’s too easy to sit all day since you don’t have colleagues to wander around and chat with. Shoot, now that my husband is here, he brings me coffee refills. It sounds great, but you know what I used to do if I had to refill my coffee? I would get a big glass of water and do ten push-ups. I love the coffee service, but my arms are getting flappy! Here, another clear case of unforeseen consequences. Take a moment and think about what good habits you are no longer engaging in, and mindfully replace that good habit with an activity that is more suited to your life as it is now. It doesn’t have to be identical, but you need to be intentionally rebuilding a routine for yourself.
Everyone is all abuzz about Zoom and Facetime to keep friends and family in touch, but it is alright to say no to camera time. If you are in the midst of your client surge and enjoying 6 hours of camera time a day, you get to say no to that happy hour. You can tell family that you just want to put on a headset, lay on the couch, and chat without worrying about what your facial muscles are doing. Let go of the guilt.
When you do choose to engage in some video get-togethers, be creative. There are many things you can do that don’t involve rehashing the latest COVID-19 statistics. You can dream of the future. What restaurant will you all eat in? Where is the first plane you hop on headed? Plan an activity. Studies have shown that anticipation and planning for an experience add to your actual enjoyment of that experience and help build more memories that elevate your happiness, even after the experience is over.
The XYPN team has had some remarkable online events to help keep the crew connected. Did you know you can do an online escape room? Trivia nights and cooking classes have been a big win also. You don’t have to pay a fancy chef; you can just have each person think of something they can teach the rest of the group. My family had a cinnamon roll cooking class when we realized we’d all be separate for Christmas morning, and they wanted to keep that tradition alive. I’m not the greatest cooking instructor, but we had a great time, and then on Christmas morning, we all shared pictures of our freshly baked rolls! Andre, from team XYPN, taught us all how to make a Creamy Chicken Pasta with Bacon, and one of our interns, Tess, convinced her roommate, a baker at Wild Crumb (be still my heart!), to teach us how to bake amazing Cranberry Bread. We even went on a delightful virtual tour of a farm animal rescue. People are being so creative in what they provide. Start looking, and you can bring an added zing to your quiet family zoom call.
Aside from working on your mental health and physical well-being, you may need to look at your nutrition situation. Have you been enjoying a bit too much comfort cooking? (Yeah, I may have eaten almost an entire batch of cookies on 1/6. Luckily it was a small batch.) All things in moderation. We’ve been using meal prep kits to keep the quality of food up and the trips to the store down. It’s more fresh veggies than you might get if you are trying to skip the grocery trips. Of course, there are all manner of grocery delivery services you can engage in as well. But if you have someone shopping for you, make sure you limit the number of packs of Oreos you add to the list. I rely on financial Twitter’s own Chef Lauren Owens to nag me about my veggie intake. I’m not here to shame you into a diet. Now is not the time for that. Just keep an eye out and be aware of indulgences that are becoming more habit than an exception. The occasional ice cream treat after a rough day is not the end of the world, though.
Are you lucky enough to be able to quarantine, test, and then head out for some time away? Go for it. Depending on your comfort level, you can fly, drive, or just head to the local fancy hotel. If none of this works where you are, plan yourself a stay-at-home vacation—and I mean plan it. Don’t just wake up on Monday morning of a vacation week with no idea what you will do with yourself. Buy puzzles, plan hikes, plan fun meals to cook. But above all, give yourself some time to disconnect from your everyday workload.
But What About My Business?
You’ve made it through what I hesitantly claim is possibly the most challenging year for you to be in business. It’s time to keep planning, dreaming, and moving forward. This is going to look different for each of you. Please take anything in this blog through the lens of your own circumstances. There is no should in 2021. There is could and maybe and what’s best for you.
Let’s start with the bridge from self-care to business-care. That bridge is built with boundaries. Whether in business or personal time, it is alright not to see people in person right now. Some are more comfortable than others. I have taken risks others would not, and I see others taking risks I would not. Set the guilt aside and do what helps you navigate uncertain times. Set the physical boundaries you feel are right for your business. Clients will understand. If they don’t, you get to take a hard look at if they are the best client for your firm. Time and space boundaries are challenging right now but pay attention and do the best you can within your circumstances. Set your work hours as best you can to create consistency. They may be crazy with remote learning and catch-as-catch-can childcare but set them as you are able.
Use scheduling apps and your calendar to help you resist the urge to infringe upon your personal time. Track your time spent working and decide what is an appropriate amount of time for you to be spending right now. It may not be possible to work full time, teach your kids, and take care of your relationships. Determine what is enough. XYPN’s Maddy Roche told me on one particularly rough day to remember that one COVID-19 work hour is not the same as a 2019 work hour. I want you to hear that as well. Please do not force yourself to work as if everything is normal. It isn’t yet, but we’re on our way.
If you have office space in your home, protect it like it’s your job. If you don’t, or if you are sharing it with three homeschooling kids, work to keep an imaginary barrier. Have fun with it—tape it off, hang up bead curtains— try to find space to laugh at how ridiculous life is right now. No matter what you set up, be sure to leave the office when you leave your office. If I am struggling to set the work/personal boundary, I will talk to my office and say out loud that I am closing for the day. I turn off the lights, shut the door, and announce to myself and my office that the workday has ended. Recently, when I caught myself leaving the office with my computer in hand to keep working, I realized I had already worked a very full day and that everything on my list could wait until the next day. I made a big show of returning, leaving it “at the office” and “commuting” across the living room to the kitchen. I even complained out loud about the “traffic jam” of our two cats begging for dinner. Yes, it was silly. But it gave my brain a moment to absorb that I was changing gears. Do what you need to do to create that boundary with your work. Let your family help. Did the kids greet you with big hugs in the olden days of going to the office? Start to play-act coming home from work and get those hugs back in your life! If you need to drive around the block to recreate your commute, go for it.
What does 2021 hold for your business? If you have just been keeping your head above water through 2020, I urge you to start looking a bit further down the road. Schedule a retreat. Any time away from the usual day-to-day allows you to look ahead to the post-pandemic world. Moving forward, I challenge you to book quarterly time for intentional business strategy review and planning. You need special time to look at the financial projections for your firm and what implications they bring. Perhaps you have hit your emergency fund this year. It’s time to rebuild. You may have grown throughout 2020 but not felt quite confident enough to hire. Is 2021 the year you can hire? Or do you need to create a roadmap so that you can hire in 2022? Whatever 2021 holds, you need to create the space to create the success.
Many of you have reported a client or meeting surge. Some are having prospective clients come out from their pandemic hiding places, ready to get to work on their financial futures. Others are seeing existing clients with an increased need to check in because they delayed meetings last year. Financial changes have led prospective and existing clients to reach out to advisors. This is great news for growing firms, but it means you need to protect your calendar and take the time to see what changes you need to make to improve the efficiency of your business. Remember—you are in control of the rate of your firm’s growth. Limit your client meetings to a reasonable number each week, even if there’s a strong demand for catch-up from clients. Pace the frequency and number of new client meetings. You may need a waitlist to help you, but remember that you protect your time by pacing yourself and creating space to provide better client service.
What did you put off in 2020? Are you ready to move forward? If you are not, it’s time to think of what needs to be in place to give you the comfort level to move forward. Set the criteria for implementation. Break down the planning as you would if there were no pandemic. Take time to introspect to ensure you are not using it as an excuse to put off work that intimidates you. Have the plan ready to implement when the time comes.
Believe it or not, some good things have come out of this past year. It is alright to admit there are things you want to keep. What did you find out about yourself, your clients, and your business last year that you want to incorporate as we move forward to the after-pandemic times? Look at the changes you may have implemented in a bit of a slap-dash manner to get by, but now you realize you want to keep. Go ahead and plan for them to be permanent improvements for your clients and team. Do you need to purchase better work from home tools for you or your team? Do you need to update your marketing collateral to reflect the new plans? Embrace the moments of enlightenment you have had in the past year.
Keep up the work you have been doing to help your team perform remotely. It takes intentional effort to keep the team bonds strong when we don’t see each other in person. Even if your office is open, there is still the stress of life during the pandemic. We can’t pretend things are fine when they are not. Use the creativity we discussed in your personal virtual life to improve your business virtual life. Institute a lunch break, recreating the break room feel while everyone gathers for lunch is a good way to have non-meeting time to talk to one another. Have a company trivia night or pizza party. Deliver paint kits and have a remote “Sip ‘n Paint” event. Several planners have told me the hardest thing to recreate is the casual water cooler chit-chat. Tools like Slack can help if you promote the casual culture and create channels to support it. Here at XYPN, we have #pets, #kids, #random funnies, and a variety of other non-work Slack channels to help us stay in touch. We even have some silly work-related traditions to help people on our remote team stay connected. Brainstorm with your team about what they are missing from work-life and work together to recapture it as best you can. Above all, pay attention to the team dynamics in your firm so that you are still a strong team when we all move on from the pandemic.
Every business is unique. As you work your way through the rest of this pandemic, don’t get too bogged down in comparisons. You uniquely understand the finances, structure, and the dynamics of your team and your firm. It is essential to allow space for dealing with children, elderly parents, or underlying health conditions. Each team and each team member is working through this pandemic with their own struggles. Workloads shift for the time being. The emotional toll will be different for every person—allow for that, and your team and business will be stronger as we head boldly beyond the fatigued mood of today and leave the pandemic in the past.
About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.